A former Palos Heights alderman testified Wednesday that she wanted the city to buy out a Chicago-based Muslim organization to keep it from purchasing a local church, but denied allegations it was to dissuade Muslim worshipers. “Absolutely not true,” Julie Corsi told a U.S. District Court jury when asked if she was trying to prevent the Al Salam Mosque Foundation from bringing worshipers to Palos Heights in 2000. During roughly an hour of often confrontational questioning by the foundation’s lawyers, Corsi, former chairwoman of the city’s Planning and Zoning Committee, acknowledged suggesting that Palos Heights condemn the church property at 6600 W. 127th St. “I felt the city needed this property for a recreation center, and we would pay the going rate [to the foundation],” Corsi said in the trial on a lawsuit brought by the foundation against the City of Palos Heights.
The foundation is alleging the city violated its worshipers’ 1st Amendment rights by thwarting their plans to buy the Reformed Church of Palos Heights and convert it into a mosque and school. The March 2000 sale was eventually aborted after heated committee meetings at which some participants used racial slurs, witnesses for the mosque testified. The city contends the foundation never needed the city’s approval to buy the property. Instead, the foundation “tried to drag the city into the deal” by including a provision in the sales contract that required written verification from city officials that the foundation would be allowed to operate a mosque, said Richard Ryan, an attorney for Palos Heights. The trial, which began Monday, is expected to continue through the week.